After returning from China with 3x runner-up placings in September, we had less than two weeks to rest and reset in NZ before jumping back on another long-haul return flight. The team combo had not changed (Marcel Hagener, Simone Maier, Sam Clark and myself) but the venue was in another city called Weng’an. The big difference was the climate was much cooler and it seemed to rain often. The Weng’an race involved 3x days of racing across the usual formats including mountain bike, kayak, run and rope skills.
We knew heading into the race that our main competition would again come from Raw Adventure (Jacky and Mimi Boisset, Dan Jones and Alex Hunt) who were on a winning streak that seemed to have lasted a couple of years. To win this race would be super challenging but obviously super rewarding, as we would soon find out.
The first day of racing involved a huge proportion of running, with some kayak and mountain bike thrown in also. Raw Adventure make an unreal running combination so we figured this would be our hardest day to be competitive. As it would turn out, the last 21km mountain run which took about 2 hours, would unfold differently to expected when we took a small lead into this final stage and held onto it until about 15min from the end, when Dan Jones came by like a man possessed (and one with a 2.20 marathon debut to his name) along with his team mates, to take the stage victory by a couple minutes. We finished slightly dejected to come so close, but encouraged by the small margin, given we viewed the next two days as more conducive to our own team success.
The second day involved less running, more biking and a solid 2.5hr kayak. We took a small lead into the kayaks after a bike and biathlon (run/bike) stage which we managed to extend by 10-15min in the kayak, rope skill and final run to take a thrilling stage victory and a 15min overall lead with a day to go. Sadly, we would later find out that Mimi had battled through the day with a suspected broken hand, which explained why they lost so much time in the kayak. We love to win, but we also compete with these guys often and consider them friends. It is never nice to see a fellow competitor in such pain and having push on for the good of the team.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Having the yellow jersey brings extra pressure and the final day finished with an orienteering stage. We have lost large time chunks in these in the past so I worried it might all come unstuck. Luckily we had technology on our side this time (local phone sim card/mapping as well as GPS software which the Chinese teams always used to a massive advantage in previous races). Sam made a few early decisions that went well and his confidence grew. As a result he nailed the nav on the final stage and we managed to win the day as well as the overall race.
With a puncture on day one and a sinking kayak on day two the only real exceptions, we had a fairly smooth race and the victory was hugely satisfying. Simone, Marcel and Sam made exceptional team mates and we were all able to contribute at various times to keep pushing the team towards our shared goals. Raw Adventure are an amazing outfit and haven’t lost many, so it was very satisfying to finally get one back.
Marcel, Simone and I are now in Zunyi for an adventure race this weekend (3 person team format) while Sam is back in NZ preparing for his World Champs big at Reunion Islands in a few weeks. The race this weekend holds special significance as it is said to be Marcel’s last race. Having first noticed him winning the World Adventure Racing champs in NZ in 2005 until now, it is a remarkable career worth celebrating. We might leave the party until later as we would love to first send him off with a good race result and that is now our focus. I will keep you posted!